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Soil Stabilisation with Ground Granulated Blastfurnace Slag

This report summarises UK research and practical experience relating to the use of
ggbs+lime1 combinations for soil stabilisation. Laboratory research and field trials have
confirmed that sulfides, as well as sulfates, are liable to cause disruptive expansion in
stabilised soils. It has been shown that ggbs+lime combinations are practical and
effective options for soil stabilisation, and provide technical benefits. In particular the
incorporation of ggbs, is very effective at combating the expansion associated with the
presence of sulfate or sulfide in soil. Following the extensive program of research and
site trials, lime+ggbs stabilisation is now an established technique in the UK and is
becoming a preferred option where there are sulfates or sulfides present in the soil.
Ground granulated blastfurnace slag (ggbs) is readily available throughout the UK. Its
main use is in concrete and most readymixed concrete plants have a silo of ggbs, which
they use to replace between 40 and 70% of Portland cement. The UK uses 2 million
tonnes of ggbs per annum (cf. 12.5 mtpa of cement). On its own, ggbs has only slow
cementitious properties and Portland cement normally provides the alkalinity to activate
and accelerate these properties. Lime can also be used to provide the necessary alkali
for activation and indeed the original blastfurnace cements produced in Germany in the
late 1800s were mixtures of lime and blastfurnace slag. Further information on the
production and use of ggbs is given in Appendix 1.
Soil stabilisation is widely used in connection with road, pavement and foundation
construction. It improves the engineering properties of the soil, e.g.:

strength - to increase the strength and bearing capacity,

volume stability - to control the swell-shrink characteristics caused by moisture
durability - to increase the resistance to erosion, weathering or traffic loading.
Normally, lime or cement (or a combination) is used for soil stabilisation. The principles
and practices are well documented [1,2,3,4].
1 In

this report lime is used as a general term covering either quicklime [CaO] or slaked lime [Ca(OH) 2]

In South Africa, ggbs activated by lime, is a commonly used binder for soil stabilisation
[1,5] and there is 40 years experience of its use [6]. Blends of lime and ggbs are
frequently used in Australia, where the slower initial set and increased time for finishing,
compared with using Portland cement [7,8], is preferred by many of the stabilisation
contractors. Prompted by the Southern Hemisphere experiences, the CSMA decided to
investigate the potential of lime+ggbs for use in soil stabilisation in the UK. These
investigations included extensive research at a University and several full-scale site
In 1995, the CSMA initiated a major research program at the University of Glamorgan,
related to the stabilisation of soils with lime+ggbs. The University investigated the full
range of properties relevant to stabilisation, e.g. strength, swelling, permeability, initial
lime consumption, plastic limit, liquid limit and optimum moisture content. Detailed
records can be found in relevant Doctorate Theses [9,10,11] and in published papers
A main focus of the research was sulfate-expansion. The presence of sulfates can
cause serious problems of swelling and heave of stabilised clay [22,23,24,25] and this

'sulfate' swelling has been linked with the formation of ettringite. In concrete
construction, it is well established that cements containing ggbs are resistant to the
expansion and swelling caused by ettringite formation. For example, Supersulfated
Cement is made by blending 80 to 85% of ggbs with 10 to15% of calcium sulfate and
about 10% Portland cement or lime, is included as an activator. Although ettringite is a
principal hydration product and a substantial amount of sulfate is present in the system,
the cement has no tendency to expand [26]. It is also highly resistant to attack by
external sulfates. This, together with the well-established sulfate-resisting properties
imparted to Portland cement by blending with ggbs [26], suggested that blends of lime
and ggbs might be resistant to swelling caused by sulfate. The research quickly
demonstrated a significant advantage of ggbs over conventional lime or cement
stabilisation, with ggbs being very effective in counteracting the swelling that can occur
when sulfate-containing clays are stabilised conventionally, with cement or lime.
In parallel with the University research, site trials were carried out by specialist soil
stabilisation contractors. Separate application of the lime and the ggbs was chosen to
mirror the common practice where lime is added initially to sticky soils to modify and
break them down before attempting stabilisation with cement. All the trials were
complete successes. Using standard plant and techniques, the contractors experienced
no difficulties in carrying out the stabilisation. Subsequent tests on the stabilised soils
confirmed that satisfactory density and strength had been achieved. Comparison with a
control areas stabilised using lime + Portland cement, suggested that the use of ggbs
gave enhanced long-term strength and combated sulfate heave.
Following the program of research and site trials, lime/ggbs stabilisation of soils has

become an established technique in the UK and is a preferred option where there are
sulfates present in the soil [27].